Safety in Numbers

If you are setting up a remote retreat you should definitely plan ahead to double up or even triple up with other capable families to provide security, as described in my novel Patriots. The manpower required for 24 hour, 7 day a week, 360 degree security should things go truly “worst case” with a complete breakdown of law and order is tremendous. One family with just two adults on its own cannot both provide security and handle the many chores required to operate a self-sufficient retreat–particularly in summer and fall with gardening and food storage tasks. The physical and emotional toll of manning 12-on/12-off security shifts would bring a single family to the breaking point in just a few weeks. (As a former U.S. Army officer, I can personally attest to the terrible drain that continuous operations create–even on physically fit soldiers that averaged 21.5 years old.) Any lesser security will leave your retreat vulnerable to being overrun.

In the event of TEOTWAWKI, I predict that the dilemma for many will be: “Either we have insufficient security and we eat, or we have full security and we starve.” Thus, manning an isolated retreat will take a bare minimum of four adults, and ideally six. (Typically, three couples, plus their kids.) This will mean buying a five to eight bedroom house with a full basement. In Utah, this type of house is termed a “Mormon bunker.” One alternative is to buy a pair of homes on contiguous parcels with direct lines of sight to each other and that could both be over-watched by a single listening post/observation post (LP/OP). One approach to defending an isolated retreat in a “worst case” is described in my novel Patriots and will be discussed in detail in a subsequent blog posts.

Living There–or 11th Hour Get Out of Dodge

One dilemma often faced by would-be retreat owners is that they are chained to the Big City because of work or family obligations. Ideally, you should live at your retreat year-round. It will give you crucial experience in gardening and animal husbandry. And of course you will be there to keep an eye on things. One crucial intangible benefit to living at your retreat year round is that you become a “neighbor.” If you don’t move in full-time you simply won’t be considered a neighbor. This can take years. Building neighborly relationships may be crucial WTSHTF. You do not want to be seen as the expendable newcomer.

In some potential situations you won’t have the opportunity to Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D.) until it is too late. The following advice is for those of you that plan to take that gamble:
It is essential to pre-position the vast majority of your logistics at your retreat. Circumstances may dictate that you only can make only one trip to your retreat before roads are unusable or unsafe to use. It would be tragic to have to pick and choose the portions of your gear to take for that one trip. Show prudence and foresight: pre-position most of your gear! Incidentally, it is wise to do a “test load” once every two years to insure that those items that you keep in your home will fit in your vehicle(s) for that one trip.

Plan multiple routes using secondary roads in case the freeways are clogged, roadblocks have been set up, or bridges are washed out or intentionally demolished. Have a Plan A, B, C, and D for getting to your retreat. The latter may be on mountain bikes or on foot! Pack your G.O.O.D. backpacks for each family member accordingly. (See the “Shank’s Mare” chapter of my novel Patriots for ideas on what you should pack.)

If family or work circumstances dictate that you can’t live at your retreat year round, then at least look local. If your retreat is across a state line then carry the driver’s license of the State where you have your retreat (with the town nearest your retreat listed as your home address), and get dual registration for all of your G.O.O.D. vehicles. The latter is so that you can get past roadblocks. (If things get really bad, there will be roadblocks–either official, quasi-official, or impromptu.You will want to be able to have documentation to prove that you are headed home to your retreat rather than just another refugee from The Big City. Paying a little extra each year for dual registration could save your life.

The Trouble With Caretakers

So are you “stuck” in the Big City? You make a great salary and can afford to buy a retreat, but you can’t telecommute. Finding a trustworthy caretaker for a retreat can be problematic. I have one close friend who has a large, very elaborately prepared retreat in the Inland Northwest: A big house, shop, springs, ponds, a year round creek with a micro-hydro generator, photovoltaics, diesel and gas storage, you name it. My friend found a man from the local church who agreed to be a renter/caretaker. He charged him just a nominal sum for rent, with the understanding that the difference would be made up in the effort required to keep up the property. Just watering and pruning the dozens of fruit and nut trees is a big chore.

He has had a live-in caretaker for four years. There was some confusion at first about whether the caretaker was a renter, with a renter’s expectations of privacy, or a house sitter, with no expectation of privacy. Late in the first year of their arrangement, the caretaker insisted that the owner give six months notice before taking a two-week vacation at his own retreat! This may sound comical, but it really happened. Finally, a year later, after eliminating the rent entirely, the owner came to an agreement whereby he can use his retreat with just 30-day notice. Don’t make the same mistake. Instead, make each party’s rights and responsibilities perfectly clear from the outset. And do not confuse the renter versus employee relationships. Your caretaker must be entirely one or the other, or you are bound to have difficulties.

When selecting a caretaker, it is important to find someone committed to staying long-term, someone of like faith that you can trust with certainty, and someone who has practical skills and who is not afraid to get his hands dirty or paint-stained.

Commercial Storage

One compromise approach is to leave you retreat house unoccupied and rent a commercial storage space in the town nearest your retreat. I have one friend who leaves his retreat cabin virtually empty. All that he keeps stored there is some second-hand furniture, four cords of firewood (in a locked shed) and a pair of underground gas and diesel tanks, which have their filler and dispenser necks camouflaged by a rusting clothes dryer and water heater–part of a junk pile. He rents a 12 foot x 25 foot commercial storage space that is crammed full of all of his gear. His plan is to bug out at the 11th hour, and then use his 4WD pickup and his 5 foot x10 foot box trailer to hastily move his gear to his retreat. This constitutes pitiful operational security (OPSEC), but it is better than leaving his valuable gear unattended and vulnerable to burglary. I should also mention that it makes it difficult to practice using his gear, or to rotate his storage food or to establish a garden and livestock between now and TEOTWAWKI. I just hope that he gets to his house before some armed squatters do!

Letter Re: Retreat Plans on a Budget, and Finding Like-Minded Friends

I have a couple of questions

1.) I agree that the best possible course of action for TEOTWAWKI would be to have a retreat. Today you described how strategy’s like the “Batman in the Boondocks” approach, or “RVing” would probably fail. How does someone who does not have a retreat, (or the funds for one) plan?

2.) In your book “Patriots“, the main characters had formed a group years in advance. How does one find like-minded individuals to join groups such as theirs? Talking to your neighbors about things like this get you labeled as a kook pretty fast.

JWR’s Replies:

1.) If you cannot afford to buy a retreat, then perhaps you have some country cousins? Or a friend that owns a farm or ranch? Make some overtures to them about storing some grub and gear at their place. Assuming that they have acreage and outbuildings, offer to buy your own locking CONEX to leave there (to stock with your tools and logistics), so that you don’t use up all of their available storage space. (Nor will have you have to worry about things getting used up, misplaced, or pilfered.)

2.) Your best course of action is to seek out like-minded individuals at your church or perhaps at your local rifle range. A seemingly casual but “directed” conversation can garner you a lot of useful info without tipping your hand. The key is to ask questions rather than expounding on your view of the future. Proceed with caution–and prayer!

Letter: Feedback on Mobile Retreating

Jim, great blog!
Another issue you might mention with regard to sailboats – piracy is currently an issue on the seas, particularly off the coasts (in the Americas) of Nicaragua and El Salvador. It’s a huge issue in the Indian Ocean.

Also, most foreign governments have very close to a zero-tolerance policy on weapons of ANY sort. A bluewater sailor who put into Mexico after suffering storm damage a few years ago was thrown into jail for having an AR-15 onboard. His original plans were to sail to the Canal Zone and then to Florida. It took more than a year to get him out of jail, the boat is now a trophy for the corrupt local authorities.

However, it’s quite possible to blend in on a sailboat. Just equip the boat for long-distance bluewater cruising. Solar panels don’t have to be very large, a small wind generator can be hung from the backstay to provide sufficient electricity to keep the batteries topped off from daily use of lights, radios, etc. Water makers (reverse osmosis units) can make water, but require running the engine at a least a bit. Storing sufficient food and spares can be accomplished, but you’ll get quite tired of freeze dried foods.

However, the main reason to stay away from a boat is simple: Where do you go? In case of any serious emergency, you’re on your own. If the boat catches on fire, hits a shipping container (and they’re out there, floating just below the surface of the ocean), hits a whale or log, or whatever, you’re in a raft. And the Coast Guard probably isn’t going to even look for you, in an emergency. At least with a properly designed retreat you have a hope of Escape and Evasion (E&E) in an emergency, and if you’ve cached supplies and weapons, you might be able to return to your retreat and evict the aggressors. At least it’s a hope. Dying in a raft isn’t much of a survival option.

As far as retreating or E&Eing with large vehicles, you’ll be out of fuel in a day or two. Not terribly practical. A 5-ton towing a fuel pod is an option but it’s a big, slow, relatively fragile target. The best (theoretical) option I can think of is something like a 1-ton long bed pickup with a turbodiesel engine, and a 100 gal aux tank in the bed. Combined with the standard tank this will provide on the order of 1500-2000 miles range at highway speeds with a load, less if negotiating poor roads and a lot less if going off road. Not great. Biodiesel is an option once you’re at your retreat but options like burning scavenged cooking oils strike me as being both uncertain, and risky to the hardware.

Again, good work on the blog. Good luck! -“Foxtrot”

JWR’s Reply:

Mr. Foxtrot’s points are well taken. He obviously speaks from experience. OBTW, anyone that is seriously considering living abroad (or living aboard and living abroad–pardon the pun) should sign up for a free subscription to The Sovereign Society’s Offshore A-Letter.

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

“Is the American tradition of self-reliance disappearing? That’s a painful question for conservatives to ponder. After all, we’re dedicated to reducing the role of government and promoting individual freedom and opportunity. But the facts, while sad, are clear: More Americans today depend more heavily on government than ever before.” –Edwin Feulner

Note from Jim:

I just added a seventh Retreat Owner Profile. (For “Mr. and Mrs. Yankee.”) I’d appreciate getting some more profiles to show greater diversity of geography, finances, and retreating approaches. How about someone from the South? Or someone from overseas? Send ’em in! (I’ll handle the editing and fictionalizing/de-attribution.)

In Town Versus Isolated Retreats

There are two distinct modes of fixed location survival retreats: ”In Town” and “Isolated.” The former depends on some local infrastructure while the latter is designed to be almost entirely self-sufficient and self-contained. Isolated retreats are also often termed “remote” retreats.

Not everyone is suited to tackling the tasks required for self-sufficiency. Advanced age, physical handicaps, lack of trustworthy family or friends, or chronic health conditions could rule that out. If that is your situation, then you will probably want to establish an inconspicuous “in town” retreat rather than an isolated “stronghold” retreat.

If opting for “in town,” buy a masonry house with a fireproof roof on an oversize lot. (Make that wood frame construction if you live in earthquake country.) Carefully select a town with a small population—somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 if it has a true “end to end” gravity fed water supply, or from 200 to 1,000 if the water system is in any way dependent on the power grid. (The 1,000 upper limit is for fear of sanitation problems.) IMO, towns and larger than 3,000 lack a cohesive sense of “our community”, and any town with a population smaller than 200 would lack a sufficient mix of skills and the manpower required to mount a sufficient defense in the event of a true “worst case.” I believe that it is best to avoid larger towns. At some point over the 3,000 inhabitant threshold, the “we/they paradigm” will be lacking, and in a true TEOTWAWKI it could be every man for himself.

In Town Versus Isolated Retreats

The late Mel Tappan wisely opined that if your house is at the end of dead end of a road at the edge of town with no close by neighbors, then it might just as well be five or ten miles out of town–since it will be psychologically outside of the invisible ring of protection that will constitute “in town.” Post-TEOTWAWKI, the “we/they” paradigm will be forcefully if not painfully obvious. If you are “in town” you will benefit from a de facto Neighborhood Watch on Steroids. Make sure that your retreat is either clearly “in town”, or not. A property that is halfway in between will have none of the advantages and all of the disadvantages.

Tappan championed the concept of “small town” retreating: owning a mini-farm that is physically and psychologically inside of an existing small community. This approach has several advantages. Before making your decision, consider the following pro and con lists:

Advantages of “In Town” Retreats:

Better for a slow slide scenario or a “grid up” depression wherein the local agricultural and industrial payrolls may still be viable.
You will be a member of the community.
You will benefit from local security arrangements.
Ready access to local barter economy.
Ready access to local skills and medical facilities.

Disadvantages of “In Town” Retreats:

Privacy is very limited. Transporting bulky logistics must be done at odd hours to minimize observation by neighbors.
Fuel storage is severely limited. (Consult the local ordinances before you buy a home.)
Poor sanitation in the event of “grid down” situation, unless your town has a truly “end to end” gravity fed water system. (More on this in a subsequent post.)
You can’t test fire and zero your guns at your own property.
You can’t set up elaborate antenna arrays or your house will look out of place.
You can’t hunt on your own land.
You can’t keep livestock other than perhaps a few rabbits. (Consult the local ordinances before you buy a home.)
You can’t make substantial ballistic and anti-vehicular barrier retreat upgrades.
Greater risk of communicable diseases.
Greater risk of burglary.
Greater risk of having your “hoarded” supplies confiscated by bureaucrats.

Advantages of Isolated Retreats:

More room for gardening, pasturing, and for growing row crops.
Lower house and land prices. (More for your money.)
Better for a total wipeout “grid down” scenario when virtually everyone will be out of work. (Hence the local payroll will be a non-issue.)
You can stock up in quantity with less fear of the watchful eyes of nosy neighbors.
You can test fire and zero your guns at your own property.
You can build with non-traditional architecture (earth sheltered, for example.)
You can set up more elaborate antenna arrays–and other things that would look odd in town.
Better sanitation in the event of a “grid down” situation.
You can hunt on your own land.
A place to cut your own firewood.
You can keep livestock.
You can make ballistic and anti-vehicular upgrades. (As described in my novel Patriots.)
A “dog run” chain link fence around your house won’t look too out of place.
Virtually unlimited fuel storage. (Consult your county and State laws before ordering large gas, diesel, heating oil, and propane tanks.)
Much lower risk of communicable diseases. Particularly important in the event of a biological warfare attack—but only if the bug is spread person-to-person rather than airborne.

Disadvantages of Isolated Retreats:

Impossible to defend with just one family.
Cannot depend on much help from neighbors or law enforcement if your home is attacked by looters or in the event of fire. You will likely be entirely on your own to resolve those situations. If and when a gang of looters arrives, it will be you or them–no second place winner.
Isolation from day-to-day barter/commerce.
A longer commute to your “day job”, shopping, and church.

A careful analysis of the preceding lists (plus specific localized considerations) should lead you to concluding which approach is right for you, given your family situation, your stage in life, and your own view of the potential severity of events to come. Pray about it before making a decision of this gravity.

Count the Access Roads

A town situated in a hilly or mountainous region is preferable to one on open plains in the event of a worst case. Why? If and when roadblocks are needed to turn back the tide of refugees and looters, then towns on plains simply have too many vehicular ingress routes. By comparison, hill or canyon towns are typically limited by terrain to having just a few ingress routes. If the situation dictates that each ingress road must have defensible roadblocks, each manned 24 hours a day 7 days a week by three to 10 armed men, then the manpower requirements will jump considerably in towns with level terrain. Count the access roads and do the math!

Practical and Tactical Vehicles

Buy vehicles that will blend in day-to-day, but that will be eminently practical WTSHTF. Say, for example, a crew cab 4WD pickup with range tanks, towing package, and a camper shell. Select one with both the body and camper shell in flat earth tone colors–like a forest green body with a tan shell. Do not get a vehicle in a camouflage paint scheme. That will instantly brand you as the local whacko. Stock up on some cans of flat brown, green, and black paint to use to paint over the chrome trim, but only do so after the balloon goes up. Buy a military surplus camouflage net and support system for each vehicle. Why? Read my novel Patriots and it will be abundantly clear.

Modifying Your Retreat House: The Basics

Before I go into detail on how to make you retreat/home nor defendable (as I will in subsequent posts), here are a few basics:

Buy a house with at least one more bedroom than you currently need, preferably with a full basement. (Proviso: A basement only if the local water table level will allow this without aid of an electric sump pump. It must have a “dry and tight” basement!) Stock up on extra tools, sturdy clothes, food, guns, web gear, and necessities for family and friends that will surely show up on you doorstep on TEOTWAWKI+1. Don’t do anything externally visible that might tip looters that they can “get your supplies here.” Put in an oversize vegetable garden, preferably out of line of sight from the street. Ring the garden with flowerbeds and some tall flowering shrubs to make the garden look more decorative than practical to the casual observer. Get a big, quiet, mean-looking (but obedient) guard dog. I tend toward Airedales (the largest of the Terriers) and Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Both are fairly large breeds with loyal, and highly territorial temperaments. Note , however, that selecting a dog breed is a very personal choice. Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV). BTW, I’d love to get a “review” letter from anyone who has owned either breed for an extended period of time. (I’m the first to admit that I’m too biased to write anything about dog breeds dispassionately.)

Plant several rose bushes or thorny Bougainvillea vines beneath each window. (“Don’t those look lovely!“) Bush roses and climbing varieties can be used in various ways to defend your home. Use your imagination. If you buy defensive wire (military surplus concertina wire or civilian razor wire), keep it stored discreetly in your garage out of sight and put it up only in the event of a true “worst case” situation where the town must be barricaded. When you donate that wire to the local security committee you will be looked at as a forward thinking life saver, not a whacko!

Replace all of your exterior doors with sturdy steel ones in steel frames. If your house has a connecting garage, pay particular attention to beefing up the door that connects it to the house. Turn your garage into a mini-warehouse, with lots of heavy duty shelving. And then avoid opening your main garage door unless absolutely necessary. Train all of your family members to never let visitors see the interior of your garage. Pick up your mail in town, and don’t subscribe to controversial publications in your own name.

The “No Paperwork” AR-15

A tip of the hat to The Rascal for pointing me to this URL for 80% complete AR-15 receiver kits and completion tools/jigs/instructions. This could prove useful if you live in a State that has registration requirements for “private party” gun purchases, but not for home built guns. Consult your State and local laws before ordering! You should also order through a drop box to avoid a paper trail.

To U.S. readers: Resist the urge to drill an extra hole above the selector switch hole. With practice, you can squeeze your trigger finger very rapidly with just semi-auto. There is NO REASON to risk a five year stay at the Gray Bar Hotel and the permanent loss of your gun ownership and voting rights! I’m dead serious about this.

OBTW, I’m not a great fan of Mouse Guns. However, they do have their purposes, most notably for use by children, the elderly, and anyone confined to a wheelchair. Also keep in mind that AR-15 receivers can be used for more than just building a .223 AR-15. For example, the Ferret .50 kit (.50 BMG single shot) requires NO FFL. Nor does the BRP Guns MG-42 (semi-auto belt fed) kit. Both use AR-15 receivers. Parenthetically, a strange quirk of U.S. law makes the lower receiver on an AR legally the receiver, rather than the upper receiver. It is a good thing that Eugene Stoner set the precedent of stamping the serial numbers on the lowers of the first AR-10s, some 40+ years ago. The rest is history.

Letter: A Book Recommendation

Dear Mr. Rawles;
Nice to see your Blog.
As a recommendation, try an older book, titled “Five Acres and Independence ” by M.G. Kains, B.S., M.S. It was first published in 1935, updated in 1940 and 1948, But still very relevant! You can find it on Advanced Book Exchange for very low prices. It outlines exactly what your wife has advised for breeding livestock, as well as similar programs, even for corn and vegetables, as well as fruit trees. Well worth the low cost as a second hand book. – P.W.